CALGARY – They came to see how the goalie would fare and they left talking about the captain.
Making his first start since Jan. 3, Mike Smith made several big saves early to set the table for another monstrous night for Mark Giordano and the Calgary Flames.
Playing in his 800th NHL game, the Flames captain scored twice and added an assist in a 7-1 win over Arizona to keep the Flames atop the Western Conference and move himself into second spot amongst NHL defenceman in scoring.
“Plus-5 and three points – that’s something you tell your kids,” smiled coach Bill Peters of Giordano’s milestone night. “They’re going to look it up and they’re going to go, ‘Hey, he wasn’t lying.’ Good for him.”
The mood was light after an outing in which the Flames felt they’d finally returned to playing the type of game they want to keep pace in a tight race for tops in the Pacific division.
The win was their fifth in a row, upping their record to 8-1-1 in a stretch in which their only loss came when Smith allowed five in a game against Boston they should have won. The pressure mounting on Smith to eliminate the soft goals he’s been prone to giving up had everyone wondering how he’d respond when started at home.
He responded well, making 22 saves. The only shot to beat Smith came from defenceman Jordan Oesterle whose point shot went in off the post as Smith tried peeking out from a net-front screen. By then, the Flames were up 4-1.
“Nice to keep the winning streak going and get back in there and feel good,” said Smith, who made several big saves early on, including a real beauty while shorthanded in a scoreless opener.
“I just wanted to be in there and be good, be solid. I thought I was calm in the net. I let the puck come to me and made the saves teammates rely on you to make.”
His focus after the game, like most, was on Giordano, who had his sixth three-point night of the year. He has 12 such binges in his career.
“Unbelievable,” said Smith of the latest feat from the 35-year-old captain, unquestionably the mid-season front-runner for the Norris Trophy. “One of the best captains I’ve played for over my career. The way he competes on the ice and the way he practices is the epitome of being a true professional.
“An unbelievable guy to be around off the ice as well. I’ve been here a short time but it doesn’t take you long to figure out what kind of person he is and what kind of leader he is. 800 games in this league playing the way he does says a lot about the person he is and the player he is.”
Giordano has nine goals and 47 points in 45 games to move ahead of Morgan Rielly in the blue line scoring race, and sits atop the loop at plus-36.
“I think getting a lot of touches on the first power-play unit this year with those guys is really helping,” said Giordano, when asked about his best season yet.
“Me and Brodes (T.J. Brodie) have good chemistry – we always have – and we’re jumping into spots and we’re having success. We know when we play well we give ourselves a chance to win.”
The victim of the latest Flames offensive was 22-year-old Adin Hill, a product of the Calgary Buffaloes, Bisons and Canucks programs. One of the poster boys for Esso Minor Hockey Week, which is going on here this week as the world’s largest hockey tourney, was under siege all night by a host team that has now scored seven or more a league-best six times. All seven goals were even-strength, coming on 26 shots.
Matthew Tkachuk also scored twice while Sam Bennett and Sean Monahan added singles. Johnny Gaudreau had a goal and an assist to up his point steak to eight games – a stretch in which he’s had eight goals and ten assists.
Andrew Mangiapane picked up an assist – his first NHL point, while Mikael Backlund, Michael Frolik and Brodie each had a pair of helpers.
Dalton Prout drew into the lineup after Travis Hamonic was a late scratch.
The Flames host Buffalo Wednesday with an eye on keeping their five-game home stand perfect (3-0).